John Shearer: Saying Goodbye To 3 Hixson Pike Buildings

Saturday, July 21, 2018 - by John Shearer

It happened so fast that people might have hardly noticed, but within the last couple of weeks or so, three small mid-century-era commercial buildings in the 4000 block of Hixson Pike were torn down.


The rubble was removed with the quickness of bowling pins at a modern bowling alley, and about all that was left behind afterward was a large backhoe sitting like a conquering mechanical knight.


The building at 4027 Hixson Pike just north of Fiesta Mexicana had housed several bars and a restaurant before that, while the former gas station on the other side at 4041 also served a few different businesses.


And the long building at 4047 Hixson Pike, just north of the service station, had housed some hamburger chain eateries as well as other businesses.


The three buildings had sat idle and empty for a period and had started being vandalized with broken glass in recent months, so change was obviously on the way.


A call to the Hamilton County assessor’s office revealed that the three lots, which are directly across from Access Drug Co., are owned by a firm called Hixson Pike Real Estate LLC.

It has a post office box address in the Knoxville suburb of Powell.


After I wrote a story a few weeks back on these and some of the other mid-century buildings along this stretch of Hixson Pike, someone responded that he understood these lots with the empty buildings were to be converted into a convenience store.


Powell is the home office of Weigel’s convenience stores, so a call was made there to see if they are planning to build on Hixson Pike, but I did not hear back.


In 2015, Weigel’s – which completely covers the greater Knoxville area like Golden Gallons once did Chattanooga -- did announce plans to start opening stores in the Chattanooga area, although none has apparently yet been built. 


Regardless of what ends up there, I thought it might be neat to give the businesses that were once there sort of a collective obituary. So I went down to the Chattanooga Public Library’s local history and genealogy department to look in some old city directories.


Although Hixson Pike has been around for decades, I started with 1957. I discovered that for several years, the lot where the still-standing and still-operating Fiesta Mexicana is was the home of Barbara’s Place beer joint. It was operated by a widow named Barbara B. Higgins, who lived in a residence on the lot and must have been a pioneering woman entrepreneur, especially in the realm of local bar owners.

 

Larry Blanks of Chattanooga remembered going to Barbara’s, and recalled that she was a nice woman. "I remember Barbara's vividly,” he said. “My dad use to go there and they were the first to have an old black and white TV with a very tall antenna on the northern corner of the building to pick up Atlanta television” (before Chattanooga had any television stations). 


By about the mid-1970s, after liquor by the drink was approved, the Higgins facility had become a Fireside Lounge, which must explain why the Fiesta Mexicana building has a fireplace. Whether a lot of fireside chats over drinks were enjoyed is not known.


By 1985, the building was the site of Kelly’s Restaurant and Lounge, and then in 1990 it was Marti’s Rack ‘N Roll restaurant and lounge. It had been vacant off and on in recent years, but now it is the Mexican restaurant, which often has a parking lot full of cars.


It is not known how much that building has changed since Barbara’s Place was there, or if it is even the original building.


Further research would also be required to see if the simple structure just north of it at 4027 Hixson Pike had changed over the years, too. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, the 4027 business was Buquo’s drive-in restaurant. It was operated by Richard Buquo, who lived with his wife Elizabeth in an apartment at 1608 Duncan Ave. in Highland Park.


By the mid-1960s, the lot had become a Quik Stop grocery/convenience store. About the mid-1970s it became the Vol Liquor Store, but by 1980 was Bud’s Game and Sandwich Shop.


Over the last 20 years or so, the simplistic building had served as The Echo Restaurant and Lounge, KT’s Restaurant and Lounge, and North River Pub. Needless to say, a few toasts were apparently offered inside the building over the years.


The also-razed building north of it at 4041 was obviously a service station at one point. The area near Hixson Pike and Ashland Terrace uniquely still has several former mid-century gas stations. And in contrast to those closer to downtown that have been converted into restaurants, these still maintain their original looks.


So the razing of the 4041 building is detrimental to historic preservation and the unique character of the remaining mid-century Hixson Pike buildings in that regard.


The service station in 1960 was Wright’s Texaco, and later Highland Plaza Texaco.


About the mid-1980s, after its days as an old-fashioned service station ended, it was a Little Market, and by the 1990s it was Radio City Car Stereos operated by David Cross. That was in the time period when it was popular for people to upgrade their car music listening equipment.


 In more recent years, it had been A-One Front Wheel Drive.


The lot just north of it at 4047 Hixson Pike and other similar addresses over the years had served those who wanted to fuel up with some fast food.


Apparently at that site by the 1960s was a Biff Burger, a Florida-based franchise that was doing well at that time but later had financial problems, resulting in the closure of most of them around the country.


It would be replaced a few years later by another Florida-based chain that would also fall on hard times.


On Oct. 28, 1977, Wuv’s hamburger chain opened an eatery there and had built a building with wood trim, plenty of glass, and some garden plants on the inside.


This was at a time when a number of fast-food chains were opening and trying to get some of the business enjoyed by McDonald’s, Krystal, Burger King, Hardee’s and the new and upstart Wendy’s.


Also about that time, Judy’s and Wiener King also opened locations in Chattanooga but, like Wuv’s, they would be short lived.


But when Wuv’s opened on Hixson Pike, operators were optimistic. It had been started by Jack Penrod, who had worked his way up from being an employee at McDonald’s to owning a number of McDonald’s restaurants in Florida before selling them.


He had promoted his Wuv’s food as fresh, with non-frozen patties and fresh fries cut from potatoes on site.


When the Wuv’s opened on Hixson Pike, several noted officials – including Miss Chattanooga Eunice Bellew -- were on hand for a ribbon-cutting of $1 bills, with some kind of proceeds evidently going to the March of Dimes.


This was the second Wuv’s in Chattanooga behind the one at 4700 Highway 58. By 1979, the fourth area Wuv’s had opened at 2801 Rossville Blvd. The district manager of the Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based chain was David Gluth.


Unfortunately for Wuv’s, the chain had to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 1981.


However, owner Mr. Penrod later rebounded, and in the 1990s opened the popular Nikki Beach luxury lifestyle clubs around the world.


By the mid-1980s, the Wuv’s building had become a Sweet ‘n Savory restaurant, but by 1990 was Choice One-Hour Photo when that was the technological rage.


In the last couple of decades, it became a Back Yard Burgers and then an El Sol Mexican restaurant, while maintaining the basic Wuv’s building.


Today, an El Sol sign is about all that remains there, signifying the sun has definitely set on it and the two other structures after roughly a half century of commercial service.


Jcshearer2@comcast.net


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